Saturday, 19 November 2011

Sweet treats

Good morning dear ladies! I hope you are enjoying your weekend.

Thanks for your comments to my last post - I hope that some of you try the recipes.

As many of you will know, it was Children in Need yesterday and at work we always have a huge auction to raise funds. I donated some genealogy research and I made up my regular boxes of treats as they always raise quite a bit of money. I first saw these a couple of years ago on the Heal's site and was amazed at how expensive they were. I knew I could make them much cheaper so I thought I would share this idea for really pretty sweet boxes (in time for Christmas!.

Take one or several clear plastic bead boxes - any size but they must be clear (you'll see why). Add a selection of colourful, old fashioned sweets - cherry lips, love hearts, licorice allsorts, jelly beans etc etc. Fill up the compartments and close. And you have this.....

How pretty are these? You can also employ a child to help you make them - I'm sure there would be no shortage of vounteers!!

You can replace some of the sweets with little gifts like hair bobbles or little cars. Or if you want a more grown up version you can use fancy chocolates, sweets in foil wrappers, sugared almonds and dragees (silver almonds). 

The boxes are available from craft shops or online.

Enjoy your weekend! xxxx

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Alchemy #2

Hello dear ladies!

Now we come to exciting bit of green cleaning - the alchemy. I am going to give you some recipes for making your own cleaning products. As I said in a previous post I began making my own cleaning products because my boy has both eczema and asthma. Also, did you know that there are around 80,000 chemicals in use in homes and businesses and the average western woman is exposed to over 500 of them each day before she leaves the house! Chemicals such as benzene, hypochlorite, scilica and butyl are found in a wide range of cleaning products and are linked to all sorts of health problems - infertility, hormone disruption, skin and lung problems, and even cancer. In fact we don't really know what the long term effects on our health will be.

So the reasons for making cleaning products are pretty clear in terms of reducing your chemical exposure. It is also much better for the environment (bleach kills seahorses, ladies) and is cheaper too!

So here is your shopping list for the essentials that will clean everything from toilets to fridges to your precious wooden furniture.......

1. White distilled vinegar - the queen of green clean!

2. Bicarbonate of soda (I think that is baking soda in the US)

3. Borax or borax substitute

4. Essential oils - lavender and tea tree are naturally anti-bacterial; I also use lemon and sweet orange, again anti-bacterial but they also smell gorgeous.

5. Liquid castille soap

You can also add fresh lemons, 6% hydrochloric acid (a natural bleach and really good for cleaning bathroom grout!), plain old table salt and soda crystals to your list  if you wish. I tend to buy bulk order of bicarb and borax online as those titchy little tubs won't go very far! I buy the rest from local supermarkets or stores.

A word of caution here - just because a product is natural doesn't mean it is harmless. Borax especially is harmful if ingested or is in contact with the skin so please, please keep your cleaning kit out of the reach of children and pets!

Recipe #1 - general purpose cream cleanser

You will need:

A small shallow container with a lid
Bicarbonate of soda
Liquid castille soap (or environmentally friendly washing up liquid, such as Ecover)
Essential oils
Vegetable glycerin (to stop the cream from drying out)

1. Mix about 6-8 tablespoons of bicarb in your container with about 1 teaspoon of liquid soap. It should easily form a sort of paste. You don't need to be too precise about measurements - you want something that is the consistency of cream cheese so add more soap or bicarb as you need.

2. Add about 10 drops of your favourite essential oil. Tea tree is good for bathrooms, as is lavender - or you can mix them. Lemon and sweet orange are really nice for kitchens.

3. Add a teaspoon of vegetable glycerin if you plan on keeping the cleanser for more than one use. This prevents it from going hard. You can buy it from the chemist.

4. Mix it all together and apply to surfaces with a damp sponge and then rinse. It is very gentle and won't scratch and yet it cleans very well. Don't expect it to be like a shop bought cream cleanser - it won't be that smooth or fluid - but it is easy and very pleasant to use.

I use this for cleaning the kitchen surfaces, sink and taps, bathroom, doors and window sills. Once you have rinsed you can buff taps and sinks up to a spectacular shine with a soft, dry cloth.


Recipe #2 - wood cleaner

This is one of my favourite recipes. Unlike spray polish that just adds a layer of gunk to your furniture, it produces the most wonderful, deep lustre in natural wood and you will be amazed at the amount of dirt it shifts too. You will smell vinegar at first but please don't worry, it dissipates very quickly and you are left with the gorgeous smell of the essential oils.

You will need:

A small mixing bowl

1 tablespoon of olive oil

2 tablespoons of white vinegar (it really must be white distilled vinegar- this is what lifts the dirt)

A small splash of liquid soap or 'green' washing up liquid

About 8 or 10 drops of essential oil - choose whatever appeals to you. I prefer lavender.

1. Mix the ingredients in the bowl and then add tepid water to double the amount of the mixture. Mix it together and apply to the wooden surface with a soft sponge of cloth. Do this sparingly, squeezing out well before applying so as not to make the wood wet.

2. Once it is dry, buff with a soft cloth. Throw away any remaining.

As I say, the smell of vinegar will be strong only for a very short time! I would recommend you do this about twice a month.

For in between care of wooden furniture I just use a barely damp micro fibre cloth. I have a spray bottle with a few drops of essential oil and water and use this for normal dusting, squirting it sparingly on surfaces. This leaves a lovely scent.

Recipe #3 Toilet bowl cleaner

1. At night throw a cup full of bicarb down the loo and add a cup of white vinegar. It will fizz. Leave it to work over night. You can use a brush if you wish.

2. Alternatively, sprinkle borax into loo (but remember that this can cause serious skin and eye irritation so take care when using).

Once I have cleaned the toilet, I spritz it with a mixture of tea tree oil and water mixed in a spray bottle. This gives a nice scent but is also a powerful anti-bacterial. In fact, you can mix this up in a small spray bottle and use it on public toilet seats when travelling!

If you decide to give these a go I would love to hear how you get on. Or perhaps you have some alchemy you can share! I will post more recipes soon but I think these will give you a starter.

Enjoy your week! xxx

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Castle and Cathedral

Hello dear ladies!

Thank you for the wonderful response to my last post - recipes to follow in a couple of days! I now have 200 followers!!! Thank you so much to my followers...I really do appreciate having you here.

We had a fabulous day out today in Lincoln. En route to a visit to the in-laws we stopped at Lincoln Castle. I had never been there before and was looking forward to seeing some history. I was amazed at how in tact this castle is.

We walked along the castle wall and then down into the grounds. There are even dungeons! Very nasty and dark down there. I was thinking about all those poor souls chained to the walls over the years, in the dark and with rats scuttling about (for a dungeon isn't complete without rats). And there was the inevitable graffiti from a thousand school trips carved into the stone.

This is what happens to naughty boys!

A game that the Mr and I used to play before Little S joined us was to see who could find the most mason marks - those intriguing little signatures of the mason who worked on the building. The boy is old enough to join in now and we had fun trying to find the marks.

He looks familiar!

The very steep climb up one of the towers

The view from the top

A very corpulant George III

One of the very grand entrances
In a building in the castle grounds we saw one of only four remaining Magna Carta documents written in the most beautiful Latin script on vellum. Incredible that any of them survived at all! Even though I come from a part of the country that is full of ancient buildings and actually live in a very old village (and house), I am still awed by the age of such documents (800 years) and always try to imagine the hand that wrote them.

After tea and plum loaf with cheese (MUST find a recipe for plum loaf!) we wandered out into the old town to the cathedral directly opposite.

We couldn't go in because the Bishop was there so we walked around it. It is a huge place, high Gothic and very grand. There seemed to be gratuitous use of buttresses but I don't mind that - I'm quite partial to them. I also love gargoyles and there were plenty to see here.

All in all it was a marvellous trip back in time, to an age of cruelty and brutality but also of great beauty as witness by these amazing pillar carvings.

Have a great Sunday! xxx

Saturday, 5 November 2011


Hello dear ladies! I hope some of you are having a sunny weekend - it is pouring here in my part of Yorkshire.

My post today is a sort of 'teaching granny to suck eggs' - almost literally - as it is about that long derided and undervalued skill (and skill it is) that our female forebears did with gusto. It is called HOUSEKEEPING!

Before you all click away.....let me share my thoughts on housekeeping....

1. Housekeeping is about maintaining a well run and orderly home that works for you and your family;

2. Housekeeping is about value for money - making the best use of what you have and getting the most out of what you buy;

3. Housekeeping is about creating a calm and homely environment (or trying to!);

4. Housekeeping is so much more than cleaning (although that is part of it)!

When I think housework I think drudgery, having to do things around the house, begrudging time spent away from things I would rather be know the feeling.

When I think housekeeping I think about being in control.

Think of the fantastically efficient Miss Kenton in The Remains of the Day.....

Bike and beret optional but very fetching

It's best not to think of Mrs Danvers though...

The distinction between housework and housekeeping is important to me - all that stuff around the house needs to be done so seeing it as a specialist skill helps me to just get on with it and to take pride in what I do. If I have to do housework...mmm....where is that Country Living magazine? Whereas if I am going to do some housekeeping...yup I am a domestic goddess and my home is a haven!! (so I tell myself!). I find this is especially important as I work outside of the home (because, yes as we know, all you stay at home mums are working too!) and I have a continuous problem with low energy (thanks to menopause, anti-depression meds and dodgy thyroid) and I struggle to get motivated sometimes.

I remember my beloved great aunts would have a set day for doing things eg. Monday was laundry (yes and all the ironing done too)...and they had weekly and monthly and even yearly routines...washing curtains, cleaning windows, turning mattresses and cleaning down the paintwork...that sort of thing. And you know what?...they took pride in their housekeeping skills. So I am channeling the spirits of Auntie Mary and Auntie Sarah (although I am sure they must look down and comment that my windows are smudged!).

So housekeeping is not spending all your time cleaning - it is being organised so that you don't have to.

I became interested in green cleaning when my son was diagnosed with asthma and eczema around 7 years ago. I swept away all the chemical cleaners and replaced them with natural products. Some time later I began making my own.

I recently left a comment at Attic24 and the very lovely Lucy emailed me to ask about the cleaning products I make. So I thought it would be fun to share some recipes here.

So dear ladies - get out that apron...embrace your inner housekeeper...and prepare for some alchemy!

Wait a minute...before you rush out and start hunting down the rubber gloves we need to talk about kit!

The first thing to think about is the cleaning caddy or basket. This is a way of keeping your cleaning products together and in some sort of order. There is a balance to be found here between utility and aesthetics, but I really believe that having equipment that looks good is more likely to get used!!!

So here are some ideas for caddies....but be creative and find what works for you.

Practical and cheap, hard wearing and easy to keep clean....

 If you have a bigger budget....also hardwearing but prettier, this traditional housekeepers metal box....

 Be creative...if you like a vintage look then how about a hamper.......

 or this cute baby toiletries basket?

This is a craft caddy that I think could also be used for cleaning....

Whatever you choose, remember that the caddy has to be durable, have carrying handles and needs to be able to carry some weight.

So, you have your caddy...what else do you need?

1. A rag bag. Yes, you heard me. Dig out those festering cloths and filthy dusters from underneath the kitchen sink and replace them with a large bag of clean cloths...cotton floor cloths, dishcloths, sponges and (my favourite) microfibre cloths. Old T shirts make nice, soft dusters. Or make your own cleaning cloths....a quick Google search revealed lots of patterns for crochet cloths, such as this and this.

And look at these....don't they make you want to dash out and get those rubber gloves on?!

Free pattern from Lion Brand

I don't know who made these but they are gorgeous!

In fact, who knew that the humble dish cloth could inspire such loveliness? Search for dishcloths on Ravelry and you will see what I mean.

So you have a soft cloth bag full of cloths and after each clean you just chuck them in the washing machine and then return them to the bag when they are clean. No more damp, smelly cloths.

2. Spray bottles, tubs and bowls. It is best if your spray bottles have different colour tops for easy identification or else you can label them. They are used for natural air freshener and for general cleaning solutions. I use a small round plastic tub with a lid for keeping my surface/bathroom cleaner in. You can of course buy glass  bottles and use glass jars with screw lids for keeping cleansers in...depends how green and/or clumsy you are! And any smallish bowl for mixing potions in!

3. A small tin is good for keeping small bits in, such as cotton buds, a small scrubbing or nail brush, spoons for measuring and mixing etc.

So that is the basic hardware.

Next time I will blog about the recipes and what you need for a clean, green home!

Enjoy your weekend xxx